New Vermont marijuana law leaves medical patients with conflicting rules.

 

Next month, Vermont will throw off restrictions on adult marijuana use — leaving thousands of Vermonters, who already use the drug for medical purposes, in a somewhat awkward situation.

Vermont will have two conflicting sets of marijuana laws on the books on July 1: new legal liberties for members of the general public, and old strictures for the nearly 6,000 Vermonters who are registered as medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

The Legislature has failed to clarify how the two sets of rules will interact. Even minor updates died this year when Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill for unrelated reasons.

Here are the conflicts

Adults who are at least 21 years old will be allowed to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, plus an unlimited harvest from home-grown plants. A separate law limits medical marijuana patients to 2 ounces, with no exceptions for harvested marijuana.

The general public will be able to plant cannabis outdoors, as long as the growing space is securely enclosed and the property owner has given permission. Patients are allowed three additional immature plants, but they’re supposed to keep all of their plants indoors.

“We tried to update that,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It is what it is.”

Patients, who are allowed to be younger than 21 years old, can buy their marijuana from a dispensary. Adults in the general public will have no legal way to buy marijuana in Vermont.

“We need to figure out how to have two systems,” said Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chairwoman of the House Committee on Human Services. “Or for that matter, do we now need to have two systems?”

Does Vermont’s medical program have a future?

There’s evidence that some Vermonters may be dropping out of the medical marijuana program, or not signing up, in anticipation of July 1.

Lindsey Wells, the marijuana program administrator at the Department of Public Safety, said the registry’s growth has flattened in the last several months.

Nick Karabelas, a registered patient who grows and uses marijuana to relieve chronic pain, is considering giving up his patient card. There are no dispensaries near his home in Vershire, and he sees a disadvantage in following the medical growing restrictions.

“I find myself wondering, ‘What are the benefits of being a patient in the registry?'” Karabelas wrote to lawmakers in May. “If the state and the dispensaries want to continue with the program, they’re going to need patients. As someone who advises and helps register patients, it’s getting progressively more difficult to encourage them to participate in the program.”

Shayne Lynn, executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary in Burlington, says medical marijuana delivery would benefit patients.

Shayne Lynn, a leader of two Vermont medical marijuana dispensaries, argues that the medical program remains valuable. Dispensaries offer expertise, testing, selection and a consistent way to buy marijuana.

In addition, the medical program is overseen by state government. Recreational marijuana, whether it comes from a backyard or the black market, will not be regulated by Vermont.

“From our point of view, we think it’s worth it,” said Lynn, who is executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness in Brattleboro.

How lawmakers left the medical program hanging 

The Vermont Senate passed a bill in March that would have adjusted the medical program, including opening the program to patients with any medical condition or symptom.

The bill stalled in the House Human Services Committee.

“To be perfectly honest, there were issues of greater importance to more Vermonters that came across from the Senate that we needed to deal with first,” Pugh said.

After watching the bill wend through the Legislature, Karabelas said, “I find it personally rude and insulting, as a patient, that they don’t want to deal with it.”

The Senate has now passed a special session bill that would resurrect medical marijuana changes that died with a wide-ranging bill Gov. Scott vetoed for unrelated reasons. They would include the following:

  • Locked container transport: Patients are currently required to transport their marijuana in a locked container. No such requirement exists for adults in the general public.
  • Protection for caregivers of young medical marijuana patients: When Vermont legalized adult-use marijuana, lawmakers also voted to penalize anyone who provides marijuana to children and adults under the age of 21. Some medical marijuana patients are younger than 21, and their parents who serve as caregivers have no assurance that they will be exempt from the new criminal penalties.
  • Background checks for dispensary employees: Medical marijuana dispensaries have asked for changes that would allow new employees to start work while their background check is being processed. The background check process can take several weeks.

Additional questions will remain waiting when lawmakers return in January 2019. By that time, state officials will have witnessed six months of legalization and should have a better sense of what needs to be changed.

“Things that are fuzzy don’t usually sit well with folks,” Lynn said. “I hope the powers that be will clarify this. … Let’s have one set of rules for cannabis in Vermont.”

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Trump said he’s likely to sign a bill protecting states with legalized marijuana, directly opposing Jeff Sessions.

President Donald Trump said Friday that he will likely support a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would give states autonomy over their marijuana policy, putting himself directly at odds with his own attorney general.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long held a hardline stance on marijuana. In January, he rescinded the Cole Memo, a set of Obama-era guidelines that instructed federal law enforcement not to target marijuana operations in states where the drug is legal.

Co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States, or STATES Act, would protect businesses in states with legalized marijuana from federal government interference and prosecution from the Department of Justice.

Marijuana is considered an illegal, Schedule I substance by the federal government. However, it’s available for recreational use in nine states and the District of Columbia. Both senators hail from states that have legalized marijuana.

“I know exactly what [Gardner is] doing,” Trump told reporters at the G7 conference in Quebec. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that.”

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” Trump added.

Gardner, for his part, said in a Thursday press conference announcing the bill that he had spoken with Trump about the bill.

“I have talked to the president about this bill,” Gardner said. “He talked about his support for a states’ rights approach during the campaign. Not putting words in the mouth of the White House, but I think this will be an opportunity for us to fulfill what is that federalism approach.”

Gardner cut a deal with Trump to support the bill after a showdown over Justice Department nominees. Gardner blocked nominees after Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in January.

Trump, so far, has remained mum on the topic of federal legalization throughout his term, though during the 2016 campaign that he supports state’s rights to choose how to regulate marijuana — an approach that’s directly in line with Warren and Gardner’s bill.

Because of federal regulations, most marijuana businesses are barred from traditional banks and opening lines of credit. That forces much of the industry to operate on an all-cash basis, presenting serious concerns over theft and making tax collection difficult.

“No legitimate business should be blocked from basic banking services – but that’s exactly what’s happening to law-abiding marijuana businesses,” Warren tweeted on Thursday. “My new bipartisan bill will help decrease the public safety risk that arises when these businesses are forced to operate in all-cash.”

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With CBD already legal, is medical marijuana state question necessary?

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — CBD shops are sprouting up around Oklahoma.

The cannabis derivative is supposed to have benefits for people suffering from many different ailments.

“The list grows every single day of what is, what’s being claimed out there, what people say CBD is helping them with,” said Jake Chilcoat with CBD Plus, “but definitely for things like arthritis pain, inflammation, neuropathy, some cancer, fibromyalgia– that’s one of the big ones. It calms your nerves down and helps to recoat your nerves. It also reduces inflammation in the entire body, so anywhere you have pain, arthritis, it’s going to help.”

At his location at I-240 and Penn, CPD Plus offers many ways to take CBD, from tinctures to coffee grounds.

If the product is already easily available, is it necessary to approve medical marijuana through State Question 788? Proponents say yes.

“The THC components, which is the psychotropic component to [cannabis], actually helps to intensify the CBD’s effects in various specific patients,” said Bud Scott, of New Health Solutions Oklahoma.

Scott says there are many studies that show THC strengthens CBD benefits. He said THC works better than CBD alone for pain management. Chilcoat said there are also studies that show THC has benefits on it’s own– such as managing migraines.

Scott said, besides the added medical benefit, he can see the state question providing other benefits.

“The CBD component, they’re importing most of that product. Everything that you’re seeing for the development of those CBD tinctures, or CBD products, are largely coming from out of state,” Scott said. “But with the THC and the full-blown medical marijuana industry, that’s where you see the most of the large investment.”

Still, Chilcoat said it may not be necessary to pass 788.

“For people who maybe aren’t terminal, but just want relief, basically we can do what medical marijuana has the potential to do with our current products,” he said.

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With Trump’s Support, STATES Act Could End Nationwide Cannabis Prohibition

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced a historic bill this morning that could change the cannabis legalization landscape across the United States.

In a move that’s been anticipated for weeks, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act this morning on Capitol Hill. The measure would exempt state-legal marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing every state to legalize and regulate cannabis (or keep it illegal) as they see fit.

In a joint press conference, Sen. Gardner emphasized that the act would not mandate full nationwide legalization. Rather, it would allow each state to legalize or prohibit cannabis on its own. If a state chooses to do nothing, cannabis would remain federally illegal within that state’s borders. But in states that legalize, federal prohibitions would not apply.

“This is an approach that allows the states to move forward,” said Gardner. “If a state like Oklahoma or Kansas or Nebraska chooses for themselves not to do this, they do not have to. The federal law remains the same. Nothing changes for them. But for those states like Massachusetts and Colorado, this is the opportunity our founders intended: allow states to be those laboratories of democracy.”

Sen. Warren and Sen. Gardner spoke this morning in an event carried on Facebook Live here.

The Broad Outlines

A few broad strokes about what’s in the STATES Act:

  • The act amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections, its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with state or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • The act states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction. This would go a long way towards ending the difficulties cannabis companies have in obtaining banking services.
  • The measure removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations
  • The act prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • The measure prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

 

Trump’s Part of the Deal

It’s a bill that some political observers inside and outside the DC Beltway believe has a real chance of gaining some traction on Capitol Hill, and perhaps even becoming law.

That’s because the measure was born, in part, from the deal Sen. Gardner cut with the Trump administration earlier this year. After Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memorandum, an Obama-era Department of Justice memo that created a federal policy of non-interference in cannabis-legal states, Gardner responded with fury and action. Gardner, who represents the nation’s first state to legalize adult-use cannabis, retaliated by blocking Justice Department nominees until he reportedly received assurances from President Trump that the president would support legislation to protect each state’s right to regulate cannabis without federal interference. The STATES Act is that legislation.

“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry. But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government,” said Senator Gardner. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states’ rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters—whether that is legalization or prohibition—and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”

Sen. Warren, whose state is expected to open its adult-use cannabis market on July 1, added, “Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development. States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations—and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said he looked forward to the bill moving ahead with the president’s support. “President Trump made a commitment to Senator Gardner that he would support a federalist approach to state marijuana laws,” Strekal said. “Now Congress must do its part and swiftly move forward on this bipartisan legislation that explicitly provides states with the authority and autonomy to set their own marijuana policies absent the fear of federal incursion from a Justice Department led by militant cannabis prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

10th Amendment Foundation

The bill’s legal foundation rests on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

An official description of the measure states, “strengthening the Tenth Amendment …ensures that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.”

One of the most dramatic changes that would take place, should the STATES Act eventually become law, would be to amend the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). For nearly a half-century the CSA has classified cannabis as an illegal Schedule I substance, or a drug “with no currently no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Under the STATES Act, state-legal marijuana would be exempt from the CSA.

Some Fed Oversight Retained

The act doesn’t dissolve all federal oversight over cannabis, however. It would prohibit cannabis distribution at transportation facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.

The measure would also set a federal age limit of 21 for cannabis access. The limit would not prevent those under 21 from accessing medical cannabis.

The act would extend these protections not just to states but to the District of Columbia, as well as all U.S. territories and federally-recognized tribes, as part of what an advisory from Senators Gardner’s and Warren’s offices calls “common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely.”

“We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations and requirements for the use, production, and sale of cannabis,” said Rep. Joyce, who co-sponsored the bill. “If the people of these states have decided to provide help for those veterans and others suffering from pain and other health issues, we should allow them access without government interference.”

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